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Health officials remain vigilant as northern Ontario sees highest rates of invasive Group A strep in province

Health officials remain vigilant as northern Ontario sees highest rates of invasive Group A strep in province
Health officials remain vigilant as northern Ontario sees highest rates of invasive Group A strep in province


Public health units in northwestern Ontario are keeping a close eye on the spread of bacterial infections, including invasive Group A strep.

Cases of this infection are hitting record levels across the province, with many northern Ontario health units reporting some of the highest rates of confirmed Invasive Group A strep.

“Our rates are higher than the rest of Ontario and that’s due to higher risk factor rates for [invasive Group A strep] —such things as chronic illness, wounds, diabetes, substance misuse and injection drug use,” said Sandra Krikke, acting manager for infectious diseases at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU).

These risk factors make people more susceptible to severe Group A strep Infections. Krikke said the bacteria normally cause mild cases of strep throat and impetigo. Severe cases can develop when the bacteria get into blood or joint fluid.

The record number of cases of invasive Group A Strep Infections are not only affecting Ontario, as health officials across the country are warning of a significant increase in cases.

More than 4,600 cases were confirmed in 2023 at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, an increase of more than 40 per cent over the previous yearly high in 2019, said the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Over the final three months of 2023, the number of cases in Ontario and hospitalizations from the disease were nearly double those during the same time period the previous year, according to a new report from Public Health Ontario.

The report states that for December 2023, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) and Temiskaming Health Unit reported the highest rates of confirmed invasive Group A strep in Ontario, along with Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health units. 

As well, according to the report, the NWHU and Algoma Public Health, Porcupine Health Unit and TBDHU have reported the highest average monthly rates for the season so far.

Thunder Bay reports 4 deaths related to Group A strep

The NWHU said because they normally see high rates of invasive Group A strep, so far this season, their case numbers are not anything out of the ordinary. Krikke said the rates of the infection are back to pre-pandemic levels.

An electron microscope image shows group A streptococcus during phagocytic interaction with a human neutrophil.
This handout image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows an electron microscope image of Group A streptococcus (orange) during phagocytic interaction with a human neutrophil (blue). (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, the TBDHU is reporting a total of four deaths related to Invasive Group A strep in its catchment area. That happened between October and December 2023.

The numbers across Ontario are not the only figures health units are paying attention to.

Last week, the NWHU also released information about a spike in both invasive Group A strep and meningococcal disease in neighbouring Manitoba.

“Because of our relatively close proximity to Manitoba … and just because there’s lots of travel that goes back and forth and for sports, family, students attending school in Manitoba, so we decided to issue a statement,” explained Krikke.

The NWHU said it is not seeing an increase in meningococcal disease, and added it’s carrying out vaccination clinics in schools targeting the disease, along with other provincially scheduled immunizations.

A person in an orange vest administers a needle to a person sitting in a room full of other people.
In Manitoba, health officials are also urging people to get updated flu and COVID-19 shots, which can reduce the risk of serious secondary bacterial infections after a respiratory infection. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial infection. Symptoms can include high fever, stiff neck, severe headache, drowsiness or confusion.

The meningococcal disease vaccine is available for children at age 12 months and for children in Grade 7. As well, anyone born in 1997 or later is eligible for this vaccine along with some high-risk groups.

Krikke, acting manager for infectious diseases at the NWHU, is encouraging people to stay up to date on all immunizations.

“Get your immunization against influenza, COVID-19 and pneumococcal because that will help to reduce the risk of having bacterial infections such as [meningococcal disease and invasive Group A strep] because severe illness … often follows respiratory infection and invasive Group A strep is actually known to correlate with recent chickenpox infection, said Krikke.




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